Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Improving Military Readiness through Physical Activity

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Improving Military Readiness through Physical Activity

Article excerpt

Nearly one in four young adults are not healthy enough to serve in our military because they are overweight or obese. Regular physical activity can help people maintain a healthy body weight and protect against chronic Illnesses, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Physical activity provides many health and fitness benefits, such as improved body composition, aerobic and muscular fitness, balance and flexibility, which can contribute to military readiness. Physical activity is also associated with positive mental health, improved quality of life and emotional well-being.

The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans ( guidelines/), produced by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recommends that children and adolescents get about 60 minutes of physical activity every day and at least three days per week of muscle-strengthening activities. Despite the recommendations, only about one-quarter of high school students in the United States get the recommended amounts of aerobic physical activity. And, only about 2 in 10 (20.5 percent) high school students meet the physical activity guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.

Increasing physical activity among youth calls for a multi-sectoral approach, and federal and non-governmental organizations alike see a vital role for parks and recreation. The Office of the Surgeon General in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Community Preventive Services Task Force and the National Physical Activity Plan Alliance have each released guidance on how parks and recreation can help communities promote safe and easy opportunities for physical activity.

These documents recommend a combination of built environment and programmatic approaches to increasing physical activity. One strategy to increase physical activity among young people is to provide greater access to safe and convenient places to be active, such as parks, trails and recreational facilities. Parks and recreation offers a wide range of close-to-home facilities and services at low or no cost to most Americans.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers the following "Three Ds of Physically Active Communities" prescription:

1. Design communities and streets that make being physically active safe and easy for people of all ages and abilities;

2. Develop or enhance access to places for physical activity; and

3. Deliver community programs that help people be physically active.

Parks and recreation can play a role in each element of this prescription, as illustrated by the following success stories:

?¢ A success story on community design to increase safety and physical activity comes from the city of Houghton, Michigan, which gradually acquired a stretch of shoreline property to improve access to its waterfront. The city replaced industrial ruins with parks, marinas and paved bicycle and pedestrian trails as recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force. These trails now connect the city center to parks and residential districts.

?¢ A success story on developing or enhancing access to parks comes from San Francisco, which recently became the first city in the nation where every resident lives within a 10-minute walk to a park. Not every 10-minute walk is the same, however. The Tenderloin Wellness Trail (https://tlcbd. org/tenderloin-wellness-trail) is part of a citywide project to improve equitable access to parks, including safe routes. …

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